Monday, 16 December 2013

Joseph Marx Hugo Wolf Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall three part Joseph Marx song series began with a recital in which Simon Lepper combined the songs of Marx with songs from Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch. so they formed an imaginary narrative. Many years ago, at the Wigmore Hall, Amanda Glauert gave a scholarly analysis of the structure of Wolf's settings of Paul Heyse's poems on Italian themes, concluding that the songs could be performed other than in the published order. "At last!" someone in the audience quipped, "A use for the random play function on my CD player!"  But seriously, the songs can be arranged in many ways. Christoph Prégardien and Juliane Banse created a re-ordering based on general themes of hope and rejection. If Lepper's arrangement for three voices (Roderick Williams, Elizabeth Watts, Clara Mouriz) was a tad literal, the basic concept has strong precedents.

The narrative also served to enhance Marx's songs with the glow of Hugo Wolf's far superior settings. Wolf was more than 20 years older than Marx, and had ceased writing before Marx began. Temperamentally and artistically, the two men were worlds apart – Wolf a mercurial genius from whom exquisite songs flowed in manic bursts of extreme inspiration. Many of Marx's songs are attractive, and some have become part of the regular Lieder repertoire, but Marx is no Wolf. I discovered him while the first ASV recordings were being prepared, and have persevered since, but Marx fits more into the general background of early 20th century song. For this reason, he needs to be known. 

The performances were spirited, if uneven. Roderick Williams, with his background in English song of roughly the same period, delivered well, but there were moments of odd intonation and unidiomatic German elsewhere. A pleasant enough recital, nonetheless. I'm looking foward to the next two recitals in the series where Simon Lepper will be joined by Angelika Kirchschlager (13/2)  and Christopher Maltman (27/6). Kirchschlager will be singing Marx with his contemporaries Strauss, Korngold and Alban Berg. It's  worrying that that concert is titled "Twilight of the Romantics" as if Romanticism (whatever it may be in real terms) suddenly stopped. Music history doesn't happen that way, whatever populist books might suggest. Real composers don't compose in rigid "schools". Marx fits in just as well with  composers like Hindemith, Max Reger, Schreker, Krenek and Pfitzner, who may not be as glamorously marketable as Strauss, Korngold and Berg but are worthy in their own way.

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